Experience of the Grand National fences at Aintree is vital to winning this race, with only classy types Vic Venturi and Mr Pointment winning in the last ten years without a prior race over these big imposing fences and interestingly, both were the only two to carry over eleven stone. Blaklion obviously comes into that category after a fourth in the Grand National last April and produced a career best when second in the Charlie Hall Chase behind future Betfair Chase winner Bristol De Mai. There are not many more consistent horses than Nigel Twiston-Davies’ eight year old and he must surely be in the frame @ 11/4.
Last year’s first and third, Vieux Lion Rouge and The Last Samuri are obvious contenders again but of the three aforementioned horses, which can shoulder over eleven stone to victory? As De Me a=won the Grand Sefton last year, proved he can stay well on seasonal debut at Kelso and looks a definite contender @ 10/1 pfresuming he handles the likely testing conditions while regular in the Becher and second last year, Highland Lodge, can again run a big race @ 10/1.
Kerry Lee’s Goodtoknow will enjoy conditions, has a second in a Warwick Classic Chase to his name and ran well in the National on ground faster than ideal and may represent value @ 14/1. Sue Smith’s Straidnahanna should come into calculations, like Goodtoknow and Highland Lodge he has the right profile for this race. This Becher Chase can also be won when out of the handicap and Federici, the veteran Portrait King is worth a second look @ 25/1.
Arguably the most exciting race of the day with Brain Power rightfully heading the market @ 13/8 after a very impressive debut over fences, beating War Sound by twenty eight lengths. Highly regarded, Nicky Henderson is setting Brain Power on the ‘Altior route’ to Cheltenham and this classy type will take some beating. Finian’s Oscar is unbeaten over fences but that was not without a scare at Cheltenham when looking outpaced before finding the gears to defeat Movewiththetimes. Whether dropping back in trip is the best option for Finian’s Oscar is open to conjecture and it would not be a surprise to see him force the pace and bring his stamina into play. North Hill Harvey, Sceau Royal and Capitaine look closely matched and it will take significant improvement from them to challenge the main two at the head of the market.
Malaya sets a good standard after her listed victory at Wetherby and warrants the 4/6 price. She handled testing ground in France and is well clear of her nearest rival on ratings, Grey Waters. Grey Waters is open to improvement and like the favourite, handles heavy ground and showed her well being when winning on the flat at Kempton last time. The value against the favourite may lie with Hillcrest Fire @ 11/2, she defeated Shee’s Lucky, who can also go well, at Leicester on debut doing plenty wrong but still having the class to win by four lengths. Well related, she is open to significant improvement and could give Malaya something to think about. Famous Milly is another who is open to plenty of improvement, and could perform better than the 14/1 suggests.
Nicky Henderson has a very good record in this race and in Jenkins @ 8/1, has a horse with a similar profile to 2016 winner, Brain Power, having finished down the field in the Greatwood at Cheltenham. Very much a ‘talking horse’, Jenkins still has it all to prove but the faith the Seven Barrows team puts in him is a pointer in itself and this race looks at his mercy. William H Bonney ran well first time out in the Greatwood but does not look to have much improvement in him, the same can be said of Zubayr, fifth in this race last year, Unison and Caid Du Lin who are closely matched. Irish raider Crossed My Mind is an interesting runner and is open to improvement but will need to on what we have seen thus far, that said shrewd connections deserve utmost respect. Two at 16/1 and 12/1 worth considering are Rayvin Black and A Hare Breath. Rayvin Black goes well at Sandown and this admirable front runner has been set some tough assignments in recent times. This represents a slightly easier task. A Hare Breath came fourth in the 2016 Greatwood Handicap before going chasing and Ben Pauling’s nine year old has to come into calculations if repeating that run.
Definitly Red was expected to perform better in the Charlie Hall on seasonal debut than the twenty four lengths third he produced and though he will handle the trip and ground, is worth taking on at a short 7/4. Cloudy Dream was comfortably put in his place by Fox Norton over an inadequate two miles at Cheltenham and he has shaped, when running over two and a half miles, that further will suit but this will be a real stamina test on heavy ground and there are too many unknowns to warrant backing him @ 3/1. That said Trevor Hemmings will no doubt want to win this race in memory of the admirable Many Clouds. Flying Angel took a step back in the right direction when fourth at Ascot but it would be a brave move to back him in this ground over a new trip. Alpha Des Obeaux is two from two in cheekpieces and revels in testing ground and with improvement still possible, rates the value @ 4/1 in what is an intriguing little race.
Fox Norton looked better than ever on his reappearance in the Shloer Chase and there is every reason to believe this seven year old can continue improving. The comfortable eight length defeat of Cloudy Dream was just below the form of his Punchestown victory back in April and now with a sequence of three wins in a row, is the horse to beat here. Politologue won the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter from stablemate San Benedeto in commanding fashion and rates the main danger to Fox Norton @ 3/1. This six year old by Poliglote is progressive and with likely improvement can make his mark in the top grade. Ar Mad should strip fitter for his outing at Exeter and has the ability to go well at a course he loves but with Charbel in the field, will not get things his own way up front. Picking up any pieces, if the main contenders fail to run their races will be San Benedeto and recent Ascot winner Sir Valentino.
The likes of Sametegal, Mercian Prince, Rathlin Rose and Arctic Gold must all be respected but a liking for Aintree, indeed an experience of the national fences, is a major factor in this race. Topham winner Ultragold would have obviously come into calculations and though he does handle heavy ground, he is probably best on a sounder surface. Gas Line Boy is the 4/1 favourite after travelling very well, going clear in a veteran’s race at Aintree before falling three out. He handles conditions and was fifth in the Grand National back in April and rates the one to beat but shouldering eleven stone, ten pounds is a fair ask in this ground. Dresden has won on the Mildmay course and arguably produced his best efforts over this trip on soft ground and can go well @ 22/1. Imejoeking is a good jumper, which is a prerequisite over these fences and was in the process of running a big race in the Topham before falling at the fourteenth. Lucinda Russell’s ten year old goes on heavy ground, has won over two and a half miles in the past and is worth a bet @ 16/1.
A very competitive London National and it looks a wide open race. Headgear seems to be the order of the day with Sugar Baron, a talented yet frustrating individual, has the cheekpieces removed and blinkers applied in attempt to bring about more urgency. He stays well but 5/1 is short in the hope that the blinkers work. Fletchers Flyer who was backed into favouritism in the Badger Ales at Wincanton now has cheekpieces fitted which is a slight cause for concern as he was expected to run well last time. If they bring about the desired effect he is well handicapped and would take the beating. Doing Fine was second in this race last year, beaten a neck by Rocky Creek and will likely be ridden patiently again, this time by Barry Geraghty. It looks a good chance for victory and he should hit at least the frame @ 5/1. The improving The Happy Chappy stays well, likes decent ground and should go well @ 10/1 from two pounds out of the handicap but this is the toughest company he has experienced. Cresswell Breeze won the Southern National nicely and staying is her game, but she will need to improve again while Southfield Theatre ran well with cheekpieces on at Wincanton and could be value @ 11/1 if building on that comeback. Veterans Houblon Des Obeaux and Benbens cannot be ruled out, the latter on a fair mark @ 14/1.
Quickened Clear’s Best Bets:
Goodtoknow – 1.30 Aintree – 1pt win @ 14/1
Imjoeking – 3.10 Aintree – 1pt win @ 16/1